Inspired by this interesting post over at B.R. Stateham's blog, I came up with my own responses to the "rules" of crime fiction that Joyce wrote about. Here goes:


1. Whoever your killer is, make sure you let your readers meet him or her early on. You don’t want them to pop up out of nowhere late in the story.


My brand of crime fiction falls less on the whodunit side and more on the thriller side. So introducing the bad guy early on is important. But does the reader have to explictly know Character X is the bad guy? Or even who is the good guy? No. The ambiguity of who is the antagonist is something I had fun with writing "Cleansing Eden."


2. At least one murder should occur within the first three chapters.


Abso-freakin'-lutely, although I'd replace "murder" with "crime." If in the first trio of chapters a crime hasn't been committed, then it's probably just backstory that can be inserted later. Crime is what moves this genre, and why readers come for the story.


3. Don’t include offensive crimes.


This is one of those unspoken rules. The really nasty crimes are generally off-limits, although that's changing in the flash fiction world. It seems everyone is trying to up one another with the "gross out" factor. To me, that just distracts from the story. It also leaves less to the imagination, which is where true terror comes from. It's like those old Hitchcock movies. The suspense comes from what you don't see.


4. The crime has to be believable.


Negative. It's fiction. If you can't suspend your disbelief, you need a new pair of suspenders, you old coot.


5. Research when necessary.


Research is of course necessary. Glaring errors distract the reader from the story, and challenge their suspension of disbelief. I wrote about weapons accuracy not long ago here. It's easy for me to preach about that topic because I know a lot about it. However, I'm guilty of cutting corners on areas I'm not as familiar. Everyone could stand to do good research.


6. Don’t reveal the identity of your killer too soon.


In "Cleansing Eden," you know who's doing the killing right off the bat. But it's a thriller. If the novel is a whodunit, there's no point in revealing the killer any sooner than necessary. That's part of the fun.


7. The killer must be capable of the crime.


The killer can do whatever the author wants him/her/it/leftover potato salad to do. No limits.


8. Start the action early on and keep it going strong.


I value brevity over a long coil of word shit. If nothing of real interest is happening in the scene, why is it there in the first place? If a part feels slow, take it out.


9. Don’t make your good guy the villain.


In crime fiction and in real life, I don't think anyone is good or bad outright. The bad guys in "Cleansing Eden" don't think they're doing anything wrong. One is concerned about the morality of society, the other just wants to see tomorrow. The reporter covering their crimes just might agree with them. So are any of them exclusively good or bad? No. People will always act in their best interest. It's only when those actions encounter other people that they're determined to be good or bad.


10. Introduce your crime solver early on.


That depends on the author's style, and how heavy the "whodunit factor" weighs into the plot. In "Cleansing Eden," the detective arrives fairly soon. But the reader already knows who did it. The detective is there to stir things up.

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Comment by B.R.Stateham on April 28, 2011 at 8:58am
The reason why I went to 'suggestions' instead of 'rules' is because rules are so restrictive.  And sure as hell, someone is gonna come along and break them.  And be absolutely brilliant in their writing when they do.
Comment by I. J. Parker on April 28, 2011 at 4:35am

I also like that scenario.  I'm guessing that the protagonist's personal history surfaces gradually -- and the connection to the current crimes is revealed gradually, to the reader and perhaps also to the protagonist?  That would be neat plotting.

Jurisdiction problems:  well, if the protagonist is a loose cannon (like Reacher), he would ignore them, and they might add to plot tension.

Comment by John McFetridge on April 28, 2011 at 4:20am

Sounds interesting, Dan, I like the locations (I spent thirty years in Montreal). I've always liked stories that have an opening scene that illustrates the theme in some way - maybe really symbolically or even through a line of dialogue, just something that lets me know early this is more than a series of clues.


Of course, you're also going to have some jurisdiction issues to sort out. Sounds really interesting. I hope you don't get bogged down with rules ;)


Comment by I. J. Parker on April 28, 2011 at 1:13am
For me, rules must be broken.  This is doubly true for genre fiction because it is already in grave danger of producing cookie cutter plots.  I have had late muders, though there was suspicion of a crime early on. I must have believable villains and believable actions by them. Since the detective is the protagonist in my book, I'm very careful to him, too, believable in that he has some human flaws.

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